'The Girl On The Train': A One-Way Ticket To Trouble

Emilie Dequenne

hide captionGirl In Motion: Jeanne (Emilie Dequenne) ignites a furor with allegations of an anti-Semitic attack on a Paris commuter train.

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The Girl On The Train

  • Director: Andre Techine
  • Genre: Ensemble drama
  • Running Time: 105 minutes

With: Catherine Deneuve, Emilie Dequenne, Michel Blanc, Mathieu Demy, Ronit Elkabetz, Nicolas Duvauchelle

In French with English subtitles

(Recommended)

Andre Techine's The Girl on the Train is derived from a real event, but that's not where the French writer-director's latest film gets its truth. While the story pivots on an actual girl-who-cried-wolf incident, this elegantly constructed movie is about much more than that.

In 2004, a young woman claimed she had been attacked by anti-Semitic thugs on the Paris commuter-rail system. Because anti-Jewish violence was increasing in France, the episode was widely reported. But the story soon began to crumble, and the woman (who wasn't Jewish) had to admit she had made it up.

In Techine's telling, the faker is Jeanne, a red-haired, fib-inclined Rollerblader who lives in the suburbs with her mother, day-care provider Louise. Jeanne is played by the actress Emilie Dequenne, who portrayed another intensely self-involved young woman in the Dardenne brothers' film Rosetta. But where Rosetta had overpowering ambition, Jeanne just wants to have fun.

Louise (played by a de-glammed Catherine Deneuve) pushes Jeanne to find a job, suggesting she might land a secretarial position with a lawyer who is prominent in the city's Jewish community. Jeanne isn't really qualified, but she has a family advantage: Many years ago, the lawyer (Michel Blanc's Samuel Bleistein) was in love with Louise.

At the job interview, however, Jeanne is rejected by Samuel's ex-daughter-in-law (Ronit Elkabetz of The Band's Visit). The blunt, severe Judith is essentially running the firm while her former husband, Samuel's son Alex (Mathieu Demy), seeks a new life in China.

Instead of work, Jeanne finds a boyfriend, aspiring wrestler Franck (the feral Nicolas Duvauchelle). Franck seems a little scary, but he's sincere about Jeanne. So they can live together, Franck takes a position as a caretaker. But the job ends badly, and so does the romance.

"Lying is second nature to you," Franck says as he breaks it off, and he's right. Feeling victimized, and moved by a TV program about the Holocaust, Jeanne draws swastikas on her skin and nicks herself with a knife. She claims she encountered bigots who were incensed to find Samuel's business card in her bag.

Emilie Dequenne, Catherine Deneuve i i

hide captionDequenne, who won the 1999 Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award for her debut role in Rosetta, stars opposite French film legend Catherine Deneuve (right), who plays Jeanne's working-class mother.

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Emilie Dequenne, Catherine Deneuve

Dequenne, who won the 1999 Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award for her debut role in Rosetta, stars opposite French film legend Catherine Deneuve (right), who plays Jeanne's working-class mother.

Strand Releasing

Meanwhile, Alex returns from China for the bar mitzvah of his and Judith's son, Nathan (Jeremie Quaegebeur). Realizing that Jeanne faces legal trouble as her deception unravels, Louise calls Samuel for help. Mother and daughter visit the Bleisteins, and more complications ensue, including the mature-for-13 Nathan's crush on the childlike Jeanne.

The interlocking narrative and ensemble cast are typical of Techine, whose films are intricate but fluid. Using trains and 'blades as locomotion, the movie switches gracefully among themes, locations and characters. The style is so freewheeling and expansive that you'd never guess the script began its evolution as a stage play.

As in his earlier movies — including this one's predecessor, the AIDS-themed The Witnesses — Techine is most interested in how people connect. Lust is always on the menu, but so are family ties and the economics of everyday life.

The director doesn't attempt to fathom inner lives, so Jeanne never turns to the camera and explains why she invented the story of the attack. Such a moment wouldn't be true to her character, anyway.

Rather than reveal motives directly, the movie suggests them in contrasting motions. The Girl on the Train is a waltz of realism and fantasy, responsibility and immaturity. When the dancing stops, we still don't know exactly why Jeanne told such a lie. But we have learned a few things about the many ways people miscommunicate. (Recommended).

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